Theater For A Cause
Opportunities to do a good deed, while having a good time, are rare and much to be valued.
During the coming week, people in Jamestown are going to have just that opportunity. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the coming week, an organization called ”Theatre for a Cause” is going to present three performances of ?”The Winning Streak,” by playwright Lee Blessing.
Anyone buying a ticket to Thursday’s performance will be giving most of their ticket price, beyond the costs of doing the show, to benefit ‘Chautauqua County RSVP Lutheran Foster Grandparent Program. If they’re your charity of choice, you can get your ticket for Thursday evening by phoning 665-8039. Remember your performance will begin at 7 p.m.
Audience members for Friday’s performance will be helping to support the Zonta International’s campaign to help end violence against women. Your performance will begin at 7:30 p.m., and you can reserve your tickets by phoning 487-2468.
Saturday’s audience will see a great play and be supporting St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church’s Honduras Promised Children Project. Your performance will begin at 7:30 p.m., and you have three choices for reserving your ticket. You may phone 753-6319, or 450-2986 or 386-2288.
Tickets to any of the three performances cost $12. Performances will take place at The Spire. That is the former Congregationalist Church, located directly across Third Street from the Jamestown post office. You may enter the building from that side if you go up the cement steps, then turn right and enter the part of the building which is furthest to your right.
If you need a handicap-accessible entrance, or if you want to park in the building’s parking lot, you may enter from the Fourth Street side of the building.
I’ve been to talk with the play’s two actors: Adam Hughes and Skip Anderson. We were joined by the director, Robert John Terreberry, and his assistant, Steven M. Cobb. I suspect you’ll find the results of that conversation most entertaining. I’ve also been looking through my past body of journalist, to a column written for Aug. 27, 2005. That column was a result of an encounter at Chautauqua Institution with Lee Blessing, the award-winning playwright of “The Winning Streak.” I’ve also done some research about professional productions of the play, and of other of Blessing’s creations, which might shed some more light for you on this version of his play, as well.
THE WINNING STREAK
”The Winning Streak” was first performed in Waterford, Conn., in 1999. It is one of more than 30 plays by Blessing, which have been published and professionally produced. Several have been awarded grants by organizations such as a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Great American Play Award. He has been nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award.
Actors in his plays and his screenplays have won many prestigious awards, including in 2005, when Vivienne Benesch, artistic director of the Chautauqua Theater Company, won an Obie Award for Best Actress in his play ”Going to St. Ives.” The ”O.B.” quoted by an Obie stands for ”Off-Broadway.” It is the smaller theater equivalent of the Tony Award.
The play is solidly rooted in the playwright’s personal life. In 1998, he learned that his father had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and had been given only a short while to live. The playwright was living in New York City at the time, but he went to his father’s home, in San Diego, Calif., to try to create a life relationship with his father in the short while remaining of his father’s life.
”My father and I were both big baseball fans. That year, the San Diego Padres won 98 games to clinch the division, and eventually won the World Series. Watching my father, as his health declined, I noticed that the winning streak gave him inspiration to get up in the morning. He wanted to get out of bed to watch his team perform. I decided to write a play about a father and a son who find motivation from a series of baseball games,” he told Theater Scene.
Omar is the father in this play. He is a retired baseball umpire, whose life has gradually shrunk to the point that he doesn’t care about much else.
The son’s name is Ry. He is an art restorer, who lives in a world of thoughts and feelings, and the arts. The play begins as Ry makes his first contact with Omar. It turns out that the young man was the product of a one-night stand. Ry’s mother has never informed Omar that he has a son, so when Ry calls him up, the news comes as a bolt from the blue.
In many ways, Omar wishes Ry would just go away. However, the men’s first encounter coincides with the beginning of a winning streak for Omar’s favorite team. Sports fans are often superstitious, and will wear the same sweater for months, or will eat the same thing for breakfast for many weeks, rather than risk breaking the streak. Omar decides that his visits with his son are his team’s good luck charm, so the visits must continue.
”You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this play,” Blessing said in his interview. ”It’s very funny, and very human. You’ll laugh a lot, and you’ll see yourself, no matter what your life is like,” he promised.
CAST AND CREW
I met with the four men behind the Jamestown production, in the hour before rehearsal was scheduled to begin. Only a year ago, I met in the same site with Terreberry and Hughes as they were preparing a production of the play ”Tuesdays With Morrie.”
Hughes said, ”I really enjoyed doing that play, which was the first one I sort of put together myself, not just acting in it, but choosing the script, asking other people to work on it, arranging for a place to perform, doing the publicity and so forth.”
Hughes and Anderson have performed together as actors in a long list of productions, many of them at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown and in the summer plays in Lake View Cemetery based on the Spoon River Project. The two have become friends, and they believe that they act particularly well when they perform together. ”When Skip came to see ‘Morrie,’ I asked him if I did another play, this year, if he would be in it, and he said he would.”
This began a search for a play with central roles for an older and a younger man, involving relatively simple sets, costumes, etc.
”The Winning Streak takes place over 22 days, and there are seven separate scenes, but the playwright is determined to make his settings places where the two are forced into fairly close proximity,” Hughes said. ”The characters sit in adjacent seats in a baseball stadium. They sit on adjacent bar stools. We see them in places where they have to overcome their discomfort at being so close together.”
Terreberry directed ”Tuesdays With Morrie” and enjoyed the experience so much that he quickly agreed when invited to direct again this year. An activist in raising funds for Women’s Breast Cancer organizations, Terreberry knew that he would be absent for some periods of the rehearsal time, so he suggested an assistant director be appointed. He had met and worked with Steven M. Cobb, who like Anderson is a Maple Grove graduate.
Cobb has recently moved back to our area after an extended period of living in New York City and has quickly become an important addition to the local theater scene.
”I was impressed by the fact that this is a play about two men who feel a need to reach out to each other, even though neither of them is graceful about it. When people feel awkward, they often just close down and try to convince themselves and others that it doesn’t matter, and they really don’t care about the situation. The playwright keeps finding things which force them to try again, to try harder … It’s the trying that means more than any particular words or actions,” Cobb said.
Hughes said he had constructed much of the sets for this play, which is a first for him. ”I’ve observed Wayne Buvoltz at Little Theatre, for years, and I’ve picked up a lot from him,” he said.
What has been the biggest challenge for the two actors? Hughes and Anderson reply in perfect synchronization, without even needing to look at one another: ”Learning the lines,” they both say.
Anderson said that when you only have two actors in a play, when one of them isn’t talking, the other one is. The play lasts about 75 minutes, he added, and if you’ve ever tried to just talk for that much time, it can really take some doing.
The company has been at work on the play since late March. Terreberry said rehearsal periods tend to involve a great deal of laughing, from beginning to end.
Anderson said, ”Bob has come to expect a certain level of maturity with an adult company and an adult crew. I don’t think he always gets it, but we seem to be getting to where we want to go.”
Your invitation to do some serious laughing and some genuine study of human nature are open. I hope you’ll take advantage. The play involves some mature language, so use your judgment in whether to take the children.
The playwright of ”The Winning Streak” spent parts of the summers of both 2004 and 2005 at Chautauqua Institution.
”In 2004, the Chautauqua Theater Company performed my 1991 play ‘Cobb,’ about baseball great Ty Cobb. In that play, I experimented with having three actors on stage at the same time, one representing Cobb as a young rookie, just starting out in life, one representing him at the peak of his fame and success, and the third representing him in extreme old age, when life and fame had pretty much passed him by. I put all three into the same situations, and tried to demonstrate how they derived their thoughts and feelings from one another, and how they react very differently to the same circumstances. It was fun to work with the conservatory actors and the professional guests, and to work in front of an intelligent audience who didn’t just sit and expect to be entertained.
”The following spring, Vivienne Benesch won the Obie for my ‘St. Ives’ play, and immediately after that, she and Ethan McSweeny became the new artistic directors at Chautauqua, so I wanted to come back and add my support to their new venture. Some time with green leaves and a beautiful lake wasn’t discouraging, either,” he said.
Blessing has long been less than a fan of the New York City theater scene. ”The place is a Disney Theme Park,” he said. ”People have to spend so much money and go through so much difficulty to get to the theater there that they are determined not to take the slightest risk that they won’t be delighted. It’s almost impossible to experiment or to take any risks there, because it’s so expensive, and the audience is so set on getting what they expect in advance.”
”When one of my plays opens at the La Jolla Playhouse or at the Gutherie Theatre, everyone from the press interviewers to the fans who come backstage after the play will be asking me when the play will be moving to New York. Sometimes I’ll try to convince them that the place is an elephant’s graveyard for plays, and they’re more likely to see something good at a regional theater, but ideas are pretty set,” he said.
The playwright commented that our country has become very insecure with adventure. People will drive from coast to coast, staying in motels from the same chain and eating the same dishes from restaurants in the same chain. ”You’re sleeping in the same room and eating the same things from the same tables,” he said. ”You might as well stay home.”
Lee Blessing’s first success as a playwright came from his play ”A Walk in the Woods,” a play about Cold War negotiators representing the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. It takes place at Geneva, Switzerland, where many of the arms limitation talks took place until the disintegration of the Soviet empire, which took everyone by storm. ”When I graduated from college, my parents offered either to buy me a car or to pay for a trip to the Soviet Union. At the time, I was very interested in why a country would invest billions and devote their entire lives to pointing weapons of mass destruction at my homeland, so I went to Russia. I couldn’t understand negotiators wasting time on worrying about the shape of the table or the menu for meals, yet with the survival of the world’s population at risk, those were the things they talked about and quarreled about,” he told us.
”When I came back home, I wrote the play about an experienced Russian and a young and ambitious American, who managed to put the right priorities on things, even for a little while,” he said.
This is the mind behind ”The Winning Streak.” I can’t wait to hear what he has to say about fathers, sons and baseball.
On May 15 at 7:30 p.m., the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo will host a presentation by artist Andy Goldsworthy. The artist is in Buffalo to create two installations for the museum, and will talk about them and about his creative process.
Tickets are $20 for the general public, with reductions for museum members, senior citizens and students. Purchase them through MuseumTix.com or phone 270-8289. Tickets for a happy hour, with drinks and hors d’oeuvres, may also be purchased for a separate charge.
This weekend, the gallery is opening an exhibit of 50 paintings and other works of art by high school students throughout Western New York. The exhibit is called ”Introspection, Interaction,” and it deals with the themes of the human mind and the world which surrounds it. The gallery is located at 1285 Elmwood Ave., in Buffalo. Phone 882-8700.
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The play ”American Buffalo” by David Mamet is currently being presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company, at 625 Main St., in the downtown Buffalo Theater District. Performances will take place through May 19.
Playgoers are cautioned that the play contains mature themes and language.
Ticket prices range from $34 to $42. Student tickets may be purchased for $15, with a valid student identification. To purchase them, phone 853-ICTC or go to www.irishclassical.com.
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Friends of Music at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo will present a performance by the singing ensemble New York Polyphony on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The cutting-edge quartet promises a modern sensibility to music from medieval melodies to contemporary works.
Tickets are $20 for the general public and $10 for students with valid ID. Children younger than 12 are admitted free with a purchase of an adult ticket. To purchase, phone 855-0900, ext. 242, or visit www.musicatstpauls.com. The cathedral is located at the intersection of Church and Pearl streets in downtown Buffalo.
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Buffalo’s Theatre of Youth invites you to a production devoted to young children. “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley” feature the famed children’s character Flat Stanley. Stanley Lambchop is a young man who has always dreamed about traveling. One evening, as he lies in his bed, a bulletin board falls on top of him and presses him completely flat, so that he can be put into envelopes and mailed all around the world.
Many elementary classrooms do projects in which students are encouraged to mail Flat Stanley to friends and relatives all around the world, who are encouraged to take him to local landmarks and to take his picture, then to mail him back to the students, so they can learn geography, history and other lessons, from his travels.
The production is recommended for children ages 4 and older. To purchase tickets, phone 884-4400, ext. 304, or go to www.theatreofyouth.org. Adult tickets are $24 and $25. The company performs at the Allendale Theatre, near the intersection of Allen Street and Elmwood Avenue, in downtown Buffalo. Performances begin Friday, at 7 p.m., then continue at 2 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, through June 2.
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Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo is currently operating the former Studio Arena Theatre as a separate performing space. Shea’s both programs shows for the space, and rents the theater to other presenting groups. The space is now called by its mailing address: 710 Main St.
So far, five productions have been announced for the location:
Sept. 17 to Oct. 13, see ”I Love Lucy Live on Stage.” Professional touring actors perform comedy routines from the popular television series, while the Crystaltone Singers perform advertising jingles and other musical elements of the show.
Nov. 8 to Dec. 1, ”Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris will be performed, in a joint-production with Road Less Traveled Productions. The play is based on the famed classic ”A Raisin in the Sun,” and it provides information from before that play begins, information for after it ends, as well as modern commentary on its events and actions.
Feb. 6-23, 2014, in collaboration with Buffalo Laboratory Theatre, see the classic ”Cyrano” by Edmund Rostand.
March 13-30, 2014, enjoy ”Red,” presented in collaboration with MusicalFare Theatre. It imagines that famed abstract expressionist Mark Rothko is presented with a commission to create four giant murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant and deals with the drama involved in creating the paintings.
May 8-11, 2014, the theater plays host to a production of ”Golda’s Balcony,” a one-woman play which examines the life of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, from housewife immigrant from Russia, living in Milwaukee to prime minister of a contemporary nation.
Additional information about the productions will be released later. Season tickets are now on sale for all five production for $199. For information, phone 829-1154 or go to www.sheas.org/710main.